Alexander Slyusarev is one of the few truly important independent postwar Soviet photographers. Although the work of Boris Mikhailov is better known today in the west, Slyusarev is an equally important and influential figure in the history of unofficial Soviet art photography. He took up photography in 1958 and was working in his mature style by the early 1960s. His work displays a kind of negative aesthetics that rejects the trite humanism of official Soviet art photography as well as the often-bombastic quality of the images in the Soviet press. Although his refusal to work for “uncle” (the Soviet state) and his rejection of prevailing official styles an implicit rejection of Soviet society, his work is rarely directly political. For the intellectuals and artists that were his original audience it expressed eloquently a shared state of mind about life common to millions in the failed utopia of the stagnant Brezhnev years of the Soviet Russia. Slyusarev has described his work as “metaphysical” and formalist. By formalist he meant that his work was concerned not with “literary concerns”- narrative and anecdote -but with a kind of rich visual poetry based on images that are at once mundane and transcendental. Whether a photograph is a still life of jam jar lids or the façade of a Soviet apartment block, Slyusarev’s best work is direct and refreshingly lacking the arty self-consciousness of many in the Moscow conceptualist group.
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